Roaring Trade

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Published: July 20, 2015 12:18:00 AM

China's crackdown on tiger-parts trade has led to an unfortunate slaughtering of lions

Talk about unintended consequences! The crackdown on illegal tiger products in China—tiger parts are crucial ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—has led to a surge of illegal export of lion bones from Africa to Asia, as per a report in Nature. A study by Oxford University has found that when China squeezed the trade in tiger parts and those of other Asian big cats in 2006 and 2007, it “inadvertently” set off a surge in export of lion bones to the country to fill the gap in supply. Trade in lion bones being passed off as tiger ones existed before this surge, but there has been no quantification of this trade, though, the Oxford study noted that lion skeletons reaching Asian markets soared from 50 in 2008 to 573 in 2011.

A small consolation, though, is the fact that these lions were mostly captive-bred and were killed in big game-hunting, with most of them coming from South Africa, where over 65% of its 9,000-plus lions are kept in captivity, often by game-hunting enterprises. But, many conservationists fear that a surge in demand for big cat parts, like that seen in the recent years, could spur other African countries, like Mozambique and Kenya, to enter the trade, even though they have no or insignificant captive lion population. This would greatly endanger wild cats and also trigger poaching in these countries. Though China has publicly demonstrated its resolve to fight trade in wildlife, whether dead or alive, the fact remains that as long as TCM and such forms of quackery retain their strong hold on large swathes of East Asia, big cats will keep getting hunted down.

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